Quandary Peak – 12/30/05

Originally written 12/30/05

Today I attempted to climb Quandary Peak, 14,265′. During the summer, this is a piece of cake, little more than a 3 mile walk to the top. However, it isn’t summer right now. Far from it, the area got a dumping of fresh snow last night, which turned out to cause more trouble than I had expected. Windchill for the time I arrived was predicted to be right around -30F, and I don’t doubt for a second that it was.

According to my GPS, I had a total ascent of 1900′, in 3.0x miles. My highest point was 12,290′. Here’s the track:

I took this very very soon after getting out of the car:

As I was moving through the woods, I heard some elk calls. Never saw them, but still pretty cool, and far preferable to the mysterious meow I heard on west spanish peak.

A few minutes later, the sun came up over the hills:

The snow on the “trail” hadn’t been touched in a while – it showed no signs of anyone being through there, despite all the wind being blocked by trees, and lots of the snowfall caught by branches. Here’s starting to come out of it, and that thing that sort of resembles a trail is where I trudged through the snow:

While I was in the heavy woods, I was mostly able to stay on top of the snow with my snowshoes and poles. Every now and then I’d go in some but it wasn’t horrible. That all changed as soon as I got out of the woods, and into this:

Beautiful, yes, but with almost every step came sinking, anywhere from my knees to my waist – and that was while watching out for the really deep areas.

I started to get up higher, which means stronger winds but also generally less deep snow. Things were going well, until the gusts got stronger and lasted longer. Eventually, the gusts turned into the sustained winds. I looked up, and saw some very dark clouds moving in very quickly. The weather forecasted an opening of a few hours between storms – apparently it was wrong.

When this became all I could see, I knew the weather wasn’t going to let me on to the top of that mountain today. I turned around and literally started running down the mountain:

A short while later, I came across some prints I laid down maybe 15 minutes earlier. This is all that was left of 2-3′ deep digs in the snow:

A couple minutes later, I was tired, and the weather seemed to be letting up, so I stopped for a minute. I noticed a few birds hopping around these trees, wondering what the hell they were doing up there. When the storm caught up to me, about 30 birds took off out of those couple trees:

Well, in the time it took to take out my camera and get a picture, the storm caught up with me, as you can see. I watched these clouds to gauge the storm’s progress, and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe how fast these came tearing across the valley:

I eventually got clear of the storm (dense enough trees), but as you can see in the track, I was at least 1/4 mile away on my descent as I was on the ascent. I took a much more direct route, that happened to have MUCH worse snow. Much of the time on the return trip, I was buried up to my chest. When I was about a 1/4 mi from the car, I took off my snowshoes, strapped them to my pack, and just charged through the snow as best I could. It sucked, it was exhausting, and my clothes filled with snow, but I got back, disappointed that I had to turn around when I was half way to the top.

Sorry I couldn’t provide any summit pictures, those’ll have to wait for summer. I’m still waiting for the weather to do Pikes Peak, with any luck it’ll be nice e
arly next week.


West Spanish Peak – 12/25/05

Originally written 12/26/05

I went out on a hike yesterday to get away for a few hours. I climbed the West Spanish Peak, which marks in at 13,626′, starting under 11,000′ for a gain of 2,700′. Yeah, “only” a mid-13er.

It’s the one on the right. Despite appearances, the one on the left is much shorter, somewhere in the 12,000′ area. Nice snow eh?

Round trip distance ended up right under 7 miles, according to my fancy new gps. The trail was questionable at best, and I spent roughly 3.5 miles trudging through unbroken snow. Here’s the view from a little ways in (ascent route is the big ridge that’s visible between the trees):

When I was moving through the trees, I heard something meow at me. I didn’t see anything, but I know for a fact that I have no interest in meeting anything that lives at 12,000′ and meows, so I grabbed some branches and banged them together for a little bit.

Here’s “treeline.” You can kind of see a trail there. That’s FAR better a trail than what it turns into in a couple hundred feet.

That’s right, snow-covered in october, barren at the end of december. I was kind of pissed about that, because snow could have been a lot easier to go up than this:

Somewhere around 1,500′ from the top, I saw a couple Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. One male with the big curling-around horns, and one female with small ones. They looked at me for a minute then wandered off. There were also the usual marmots scampering around the rocks all over the place. There was a little snow up top though, which wasn’t so much snow as white ice. I had to grab rocks and bash them in for handholds so I wouldn’t slide off the mountain.

I finally made it to the top, and found that I was the first to sign the register since December 2, 2005. Of course, I ran into some jackass that shakes hands like a woman on the way down. Still, it was nice to be the only one out there for so long. I was alone for all but 30 seconds or so of the 4.5 hour trek. Here’s a couple kickass pictures from the summit. The mountain range there is the Culebra Range, which has one 14er in it, and is all privately owned. There are arrangements that can be made, for $100 per person. I’m looking into things. The other picture shows the radial dikes, with the San Juans in the background.